According to the book, “Introduction to Economic Development” by the International Economic Development Council, there are a number of steps necessary to determine the strengths and weakness of a development region. I’m in the business of marketing Flexible Office Spaces, which are, after all, business incubators or mini economic development hubs in their own right. I was thinking about the connections between a development region’s economic director job and the roll I play in enticing business owners to house in my center (or jurisdiction, if you will). My prospective clients are equally concerned about the benefits, for their own economic development, that choosing my coworking space will have over choosing another. So, while there are clearly differences to our two positions, certainly scale is one, there are several similarities.
The starting paragraph of the section of the book entitled, ‘How to Analyze and Profile a Local Economy’ reads, “the following section provides a framework of the different factors in a community that can affect its economic growth and development.” Sharing this traditional economic development framework and then providing specific Workplace-as-a-Service ™ center examples might be helpful to my prospective clients, or any business considering their office needs in a serviced office environment.
The first sentence of each section from the book’s framework, the second, are my comments:
“Economic condition describes the current level of economic activity of a community.” Another term for community might be environment, or office environment. A serviced office center prospect would need to determine economic activity on two fronts. First, does the center offer well-priced services and amenities and are those services customizable? Generally, the more flexible the solutions the center offers, the greater the quantity of businesses in the office community. Second, and harder to quantify, is analyzing the “vibe” of the environment. In many cases, business breeds business so it is important to note if the space “feels” like productivity. Do you notice the “hum of business”?
“Population characteristics and trends provide insight into the potential workforce pool, the nature of the local market and the need for local goods and service.” It is a good idea to determine the composition of existing businesses already in a center. This is important for the reasons mentioned above, but also because these might be potential partners, resources or centers of influence which could lead to new opportunities. They are also a good source for collecting references about the center operation.
Labor Force Characteristics
“Labor Force is one of the most important resources available to existing and potential investors in the community.” For the purpose of this economic development/serviced workspace comparison, the old real estate adage, “location, location, location”, applies to this section. An assessment must be made based on accessibility to: clients, vendors, partners, and future employees which are the “work force” of any business endeavor. Another topic to consider when thinking of the labor requirements of the principals or owners, is the coveted “work-life balance” issue. Is the location near school, home or parks and recreation or retail which means combining daily activities and work is easier?
“Physical space and infrastructure are essential for business development.” The physical condition of a workplace is important on many levels. Comfort is one. What are the aesthetics of the physical space you are considering? Does the space “feel” good? Also, important is room for growth. Business opportunities aren’t always planned so it is good to know ahead if the center is able to accommodate growth, either permanently, or on a temporary project basis?
Is the “greenness” of the space or the business operation important? Some businesses are required to meet certain ‘green’ standards for funding or social purposes. If so, are there recycling programs or, at least, proactive efforts made to discourage waste? Are there bike lockers and carpool options? Is there ample parking or easy access to mass transit? Does the building or center meet certain criteria or have awards such as LEED ratings?
“Business climate provides insight into how supportive the local economic environment is to businesses.” If we assume that this section, in a traditional economic development scenario, refers to government entities, then we can look to the governance of the serviced workplace as a comparison. How supportive might the business center operator be toward your development needs? Are they flexible in their terms? Do they get to know their client’s businesses to facilitate referrals and contacts? Is the general “attitude” of the management one of unyielding customer service and helpfulness?
“Knowledge-based resources provide insight into the technical and scientific resources available to support industry development.” This section is a little harder to correlate. The most obvious concern would be, does the center have adequate access and availability of high speed internet? How is the system managed? Is there access to increasing demands for bandwidth such as fiber? State of the art technology is what connects businesses to the informational resources they need. A center’s operation should accommodate the requirements of your business.
Another way to consider this section is to learn about access to business partnerships the center may offer. Some offer access to discounts at office supply stores, access to subscription systems that are aggregated over a large number of clientele allowing for significant cost savings, association discounts or access to formalized networking and Meetup groups.
Quality of Life
“Quality of Life, also known as General Living Conditions, is a broad term used to describe cultural, historical, recreational, natural and other characteristics of a community.” When assessing a future workplace, consider “quality of life” criteria. This section is a bit more subjective, depending on the needs of the business. A partial list might include: Is the space decorated in an attractive manner? Is the center well lit and well maintained? Do my employees feel safe? Are there amenities such as a gym, designated outdoor eating or exercise spaces, or a cafeteria? Is it accessible 24/7 to fit different work schedules or client needs? Is access easy for clients and guests? Are their spaces for quiet, and spaces for community engagement?
written by Tracy Wilson, Pacific Workplaces Managing Partner